Research Experience Placements 2021

We are pleased to announce that NERC have awarded our DTP 5 research experience placements (REPs) to be completed over the summer period of 2021. REP placements give undergraduate students a taster of what it’s like to be a postgraduate researcher.

The application deadline is 5pm on Tuesday 29th June 2021. To apply, first check the eligibility requirements and available projects below, and then complete a REP application Form. We would be grateful if you could also complete our anonymous equality and diversity and inclusion (EDI) form which can be found here.

Placement Details, Funding and Reporting

  • We have 5 REPs available for the Summer 2021.
  • Placement duration is 6 weeks full time the summer vacation period (July/August).
  • Placements are paid at the University of Leeds grade 3 (£9.72 per hour).
  • There is no additional funding available for relocation.
  • Students will need to be in the UK due to employment regulations.
  • The student and the project supervisor at the host organisation will be required to complete a brief online report on the outcome of the placement at the end of the placement.

Eligibility of students

Applicants must be studying for an undergraduate degree (minimum second year) in any science discipline (this includes maths, engineering, computing, geosciences and all sciences) however you may not apply to complete an internship in the department you are currently studying in (you may apply for an internship in the same department in another university, or another department at the same university)

Applications are open to students from all universities, however potential applicants should be aware that no relocation or travel costs will be paid.

Students must meet ALL of the following criteria to be eligible to apply for a REP. The students must:

  • Be undertaking their first undergraduate degree studies (or integrated Masters) in a UK Higher Education institution.
  • Students on standalone masters are not be eligible for this scheme
  • Be applying for a placement in a different department to their undergraduate degree.
  • Be eligible for subsequent NERC PhD funding.

REPs do not meet the requirements for a visa request, and therefore, are open to UK citizens or those who already have a right to work in the UK.

Available projects:


Supervisor: Dr Crispin Little, School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds

Project Title: Taxonomy and palaeoecology of a 50,000-year-old methane seep community from the Indian Ocean

Project Description:

Introduction

Methane seeps are sites on the modern sea floor where methane rises up through thick sequences of sediments onto the seafloor. This methane is used as a nutrition source for chemosynthetic prokaryotic organisms. These act as primary producers for highly unusual animal communities, which are most similar to hydrothermal vent communities in their taxonomic structure and ecological functioning. Many animals at methane seeps form symbiotic relationships with chemosynthetic bacteria, which allows them to grow particularly large for deep-sea animals. Seep communities have now been found in all the World’s oceans, and also have a fossil record. However, one significant biogeographic gap in our knowledge of both modern and ancient seep communities is the Indian Ocean. Recently a single active methane seep community has been discovered from the Krishna-Godavari (K-G) Basin, off the East coast of India, and from the same area a fossil seep community that is around 50,000-years-old was found. The fossil seep community comprises shells of goose barnacles (cirripedes), and a large diversity of bivalves and gastropods. Only the former have been described.

Aims and methods

The project aims to taxonomically describe the mollusc species from the fossil KG Basin seep using their shells, imaged by SEM for the small specimens. By comparison with living related taxa the palaeoecology of the fossil KG Basin seep community will then be reconstructed. Following this the fossil KG Basin seep community will be compared to the modern seep community in the same area to look for temporal community changes and also biogeogeographic trends using data from seep communities outside of the Indian Ocean area.

Supervisory arrangements

The analytical work will be performed in the School of Earth and Environment, under supervision of the project leader, Dr Crispin Little


Supervisor: Dr Crispin Little, School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds

Project Title: Mineralization of gastropods at modern hydrothermal vents

Project Description:

Introduction

Hydrothermal vents are extreme environments where hot, acidic fluid is ejected onto seafloor, usually at great depths. These conditions would seem to be inimical to the preservation of fossils, and yet there is fossil record of hydrothermal vent animals that stretches back hundreds of millions of years, and includes tube worms, brachiopods, gastropods and bivalves. In part this record can be explained because vent sites are also places where very rapid mineralization occurs, which can lead to exceptional preservation. Indeed, seafloor experiments at hydrothermal vents have shown that mineralization of mollusc shells and worm tubes can take place in under a year. This mineralization is by sulphides, particularly pyrite. However, the details of the early stages of this mineralization process are largely unknown, and yet crucial to understanding the preservation of animals at vents, and thus the biases present in the fossil record of vent communities. Recently a number of gastropod specimens have been collected from modern hydrothermal vents in the West Pacific and Indian Oceans, that have shells that are coated in minerals. A detailed investigation of these will likely prove instructive to understanding more about the early stages of preservation of animals with shells at vent sites.

Aims and methods

The project aims to investigate the mineralogy of the coatings on the vent gastropod shells, and the interactions of the these mineral coatings with carbonate shells. The techniques will include first CT scanning the shells to gain knowledge of the three-dimensional structure of shells and the mineral coatings. This technique should work well, as the mineral coatings are likely to be sulphides, which will contrast strongly with the carbonate nature of shells. Then the shells will be made into polished blocks for subsequent detailed mineralogical investigation using SEM and XRD. Finally, the results from the modern material will be compared to data from fossilized vent gastropods, where the mineral replacement process been complete.

Supervisory arrangements

The analytical work will be performed in the School of Earth and Environment, under supervision of the project leader, Dr Crispin Little


Supervisor: Dr Jason Harvey, School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds

Project Title: The constantly evolving composition of Earth – the contribution from micrometeorites

Project Description:

Understanding the composition of meteorites gives us important insights into the bulk composition of Earth and the other rocky planets. The frequency of observed meteorite falls, such as the recent Winchcombe meteorite, is unfortunately low. While meteorite finds are more common, they are most easily spotted in extreme environments such as deserts and icecaps. Micrometeorites on the other hand arrive at the surface of the Earth much more frequently and are readily collectible in urban environments. This project aims to use already well established collection methods to sample micrometeorites and to compare their bulk composition to those of macro-scale meteorites reported in the literature, and to estimate the present day flux of these meteorite types to the surface of present day Earth.


Supervisor: Dr Marcelo Galdos, School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds

Project Title: Remote sensing applications in soil health monitoring in agricultural systems

Project Description:

Soil quality is a key component of global sustainability, being central to the ‘Zero Hunger’, ‘Life on Land’, and ‘Climate Action’ Sustainable Development Goals. Soil health is also relevant for agricultural and environmental policies in the UK, such as Defra’s 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment, the new Environmental Land Management system (ELM) and in the UK’s 2050 net zero target. The focus of this project will be to integrate remote sensing and machine learning tools to assess changes in space and time in key soil quality indicators, using geospatial covariates at multiple scales. At fields spanning a range of soil types and management factors, the student will directly assess soil physical and chemical properties such as rugosity, moisture, albedo, colour, texture, organic matter and fertility. Satellite data will be collated over study fields during times with exposed soils from a variety of sensors and satellites including Sentinel 1, 2 and Landsat. The student will evaluate the sensitivity of satellite measurements to soil variables. The student will benefit from the University of Leeds’ Research Farm, a 300-hectare digitally connected Smart Farm structured as a Critical Zone Observatory (CZO).


Supervisor: Dr Richard Pope, School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds

Project Title: Utilising Satellite and Surface Measurements of Nitrogen Dioxide to Investigate UK Air Quality

Project Description:

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a major air pollutant with severe impacts on human health. In the UK, the Automated Urban and Rural Network (AURN) is the official surface monitoring network to measure pollution levels, including NO2. AURN is made up of approximately 100 sites across the UK including roadside, urban background and rural sites. While providing critical information on national air quality (e.g. informs government policy, helps evaluate emission inventories and air quality forecast models), the network is spatially limited and can struggle to represent pollution gradients between sources. Therefore, utilising other observations would be beneficial to complement existing AURN sites to help monitor national air quality.

Satellites have been measuring key air pollutants, including NO2, for several decades and represent a major step forward in our ability to monitor air quality globally and regionally. As of October 2017, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Sentinel 5 – Precursor (S5P) satellite with the TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) on-board. TROPOMI has the ability to retrieve tropospheric column NO2 at an unparalleled spatial resolution of 3.5 km x 7 km allowing for the city-scale assessment of pollution (e.g. as done by Pope et al., (2019) over the UK), thereby revolutionising our ability to monitor pollution sources.

However, while TROPOMI provides key information (e.g. source location, magnitude relative to our sources and temporal evolution), it only represents tropospheric column quantities (i.e. amount of NO2 between the surface and tropopause) and does not provide the surface information like AURN. Therefore, this research experience placement (REP) aims to use AURN to determine if TROPOMI measurements of tropospheric column NO2 can capture the variability of surface NO2 pollution levels over key city sources (e.g. London, Birmingham, Manchester). Thus, exploring the ability of satellite NO2 measurements to accurately monitor the influence of surface pollution sources/activities on UK air quality and help inform future air quality policy.

The REP holder would gain experience in reviewing the current literature, using the Unix environment and a coding language (IDL) to analyse datasets, as well as using a range of statistical methods and would summarise the results in a short report. All these skills would be beneficial for the student’s final year dissertation. The student would also gain experience of studying a topic with direct policy links (e.g. this work would complement a current project funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and potentially lead to a short peer-reviewed publication).

References:

Pope et al. 2019. High resolution satellite observations give new view of UK air quality, Weather, https://doi.org/10.1002/wea.3441.